I was one of the twelve. The twelve. Jesus’ disciples. Some days I still can’t believe I was that lucky—or blessed, I guess I should say. Of all the people he could have chosen, he chose me! Of course, I do have to take a little credit because at least I was smart enough to follow. There were others that had the opportunity but passed it up. I remember there was the guy who said, “Oh, I’ll join you as soon as I sell this piece of land.” Really, Dude? You’re going to pass this up for a real estate transaction? It was clear to all of us, from the beginning, that Jesus was something special. We didn’t know what he was, exactly, but we knew we were being invited to participate in something big, something life-changing. When he called us, we all had lives of our own—jobs, families, responsibilities. Some of us had wives—who we actually liked! Leaving them behind wasn’t easy. But when Jesus said “Follow me,” we just knew it was what we had to do.
Do you think we were crazy for that? Maybe you had a time when—you couldn’t explain it—but you just knew the step before you was the right one to take, even if it didn’t make sense to anybody else. Others may have questioned your decision-making ability, but you just knew, in your heart. Following Jesus was like that for me.
There were times I questioned, of course. Jesus could be confusing. He spoke in parables, in stories, and didn’t always explain them. He seemed to get frustrated with us when we were too slow to figure things out. Then there were the arguments with the religious leaders and temple authorities, and sometimes we received threats of violence. When John the Baptizer was killed, we all got scared. But then something else would happen and we would all be so amazed that it would carry us through the hard times. I mean, we saw him feed a huge crowd with one boy’s lunch! We saw him heal a man who had been born blind. We saw him cast out demons and make the lame to walk again.
Other people saw these miracles, too, of course. But they stuck around to see one or two, maybe three miracles. We saw them all. All the time. The twelve of us. I was one of the twelve.
But I wasn’t one of the three. Peter, James, and John. They were in Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus would pull the three of them aside and spend time just with them. Some of the other guys got jealous at times. They would grumble, “Why them? What’s so special about them? Ok, James and John were OK, but Simon Peter? Mr. Look-at-me-I-can-walk-on-water?” And then there was the time the three of them argued about who would be greater in Jesus’ kingdom, who would sit at Jesus’ right and left hand. There they were arguing about who got to sit next to Jesus, and I was just honored to have a place at the table!
But most of the time I understood. I can explain Jesus’ interest in them in two words: leadership potential. They had it. Some of us, not so much. I don’t resent that. I’m a worker bee. I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Somebody had to make sure we had a place to sleep and food to eat, and I was glad to do whatever I could to help Jesus and our cause. I wasn’t jealous.
Until that one day. Jesus took the big three and went up the mountain. They were gone quite a while, and when they came back, it was clear that something had happened—something amazing. Peter, James, and John were practically buzzing with it. They kept whispering. I heard something about Moses and Elijah, and they clearly had an incredible spiritual experience. The other guys kept asking what happened, but Peter said, “Jesus told us not to tell anyone.” One of the guys—I think maybe it was Judas—said, “I’m sure he meant not to tell anyone else. You can tell us!” They refused.
I’ve got to tell you, that hurt. I understood Jesus wanting to spend extra time with the three of them, to prepare them for leadership maybe, or just because he enjoyed being with them. But to give them access to a spiritual experience that the rest of us couldn’t have? To not even let them tell us about it? We all left everything to follow him. We all longed to be near him, to understand his purpose. We all longed to serve God, to be near God, and we thought he was the way. Why did those three get this literal mountaintop experience, while the rest of us waited down below? Were we not good enough? Were we not worthy? Had we not proven our faithfulness? Should I just pack it up and leave?
Do you blame me for being jealous? I think everybody longs for a spiritual experience of some kind. We all want to see God, to feel God’s presence. We all want to pray and feel like our prayers actually make it past the ceiling. And sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t and we don’t know why and the best we can do is keep trying and pray that we will again.
So that’s what I decided to do. I decided to stick with Jesus, even if I didn’t get the mountaintop experience because I might not experience it with him, but I sure wouldn’t without him. The way I figured it, just being near Jesus increased my odds.
And then we got to the end, to what turned out to be our last meal together. He was telling us that he was going to be killed, and we were all trying not to believe it, but I could see the signs. I knew trouble was coming. I knew Jesus was speaking truth. But in the midst of it, he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” And I wanted to scream. Seriously, Jesus? You’ve just told us you’re going to leave us, you’re going to die, you’re going to be executed—but don’t let your hearts be troubled! Then he said he would go and prepare a place for us with God, “that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” This time I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I said, “Lord, we don’t even know where you’re going! How can we know the way?” He said, “I am the way. And the truth. And the life.”
I tried to hold onto that, especially that last part, I am the life. Because by the next day he was gone. He was dead and buried and I knew I would never see him again. And then three days later everybody did! Everybody else was gathered together and Jesus came to them—alive! And they all came and told me about this wonderful experience they’d had, saying, “We have seen the Lord!” And I thought, “I’ve missed it again? Another amazing spiritual experience, and I’ve missed it again?” I refused to believe it. I refused to believe that Jesus would offer this intimate experience—this time to everybody else but me. I said, “Unless I see the scars, unless I touch the wounds, I won’t believe.” I was done with trusting other people’s experiences. I needed to see for myself, touch for myself.
Finally, a week later, Jesus showed up again. He looked right at me and gave me a personal invitation. He said, “Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
It wasn’t a mountaintop experience. There was no fire or fog or voice from heaven or ancient prophets. There was just Jesus. And it was enough.
Maybe I’m not a mountaintop experience kind of person. Maybe meeting God in these great elevated moments just isn’t my style of spirituality. Maybe I’m always going to meet God in the nitty gritty, in the hurt places, in the wounds and scars. It’s no less of an experience. It’s no less of a miracle. Maybe you get voices from heaven. Maybe you hear God in ancient prophets. Maybe you meet God in the mist. Or maybe you wonder why everybody else seems to and you never do. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you meet God in the nitty gritty. Maybe you meet God in the hurt places.
Either way, if you want a spiritual experience, stay close to Jesus. It increases your odds.